NORWICH, England, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- One of Britain's most notorious criminals, Ronnie Biggs of the Great Train Robbery, is to be released from prison for health reasons, officials said Thursday.
Gaining his freedom is likely to make little practical difference for Biggs, who has been hospitalized at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for several weeks, The Guardian reported. His hospital room has been guarded by three prison officers, who will leave Friday morning.
Doctors say Biggs, suffering from severe pneumonia and unable to eat or talk, is unlikely to recover. His 80th birthday is Saturday.
Home Secretary Jack Straw, who denied Biggs parole earlier this summer, granted medical release Thursday.
Biggs was one of the gang who robbed the London-to-Glasgow mail train in 1963, making off with 2.6 million pounds, a fortune at a time when a new Ford Cortina cost 675 pounds. He was arrested and sentenced to 30 years but escaped from a London prison in 1965 and spent years in Australia and Brazil before returning to England voluntarily in 2001.
His wish to "walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter" now appears unlikely to be fulfilled.
Giovanni di Stefano, Biggs' lawyer, called the decision "a victory for common sense."
"He is being released effectively to die and that cannot be considered a victory," di Stefano said.